Eastwood's '15:17 to Paris' a sluggish re-creation of foiled attack
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"The 15:17 to Paris" - ★ ★
In his latest film, "The 15:17 to Paris," Clint Eastwood has taken his famously no-frills filmmaking further than ever before. Having already dispensed with many of the typical accoutrements of Hollywood filmmaking -- lengthy development, a battery of takes, any hand-wringing at all -- he has, with characteristically little anguish, jettisoned actors from the picture, too. Who needs 'em, anyway?
Truth be told, there are numerous professional actors in "The 15:17 to Paris," about the foiled terrorist attack on a 2015 Paris-bound train. But the central characters, and even many of the extras, are played by themselves. The movie, simple and straightforward, derives most of its appeal from its verisimilitude -- from its distinctly un-Hollywood-ness.
That's enough to make "The 15:17 to Paris" a refreshingly humble artifact in the often bombastic genre of terrorism thrillers. But it's not the quality of the acting that limits Eastwood's film. It's a threadbare script that fails to find much of a story to tell behind the headlines about how Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone and their friend Anthony Sadler tackled and subdued an assailant armed with an AK-47 and nearly 300 rounds of ammunition.
It's far from without precedent to cast real people, particularly ones with military experience. Maybe the movie business senses soldiers have something that can't be faked. There was Harold Russell's Oscar-winning World War II veteran in William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), the decorated Audie Murphy in 1955's "To Hell and Back" and, more recently, 2012's "Act of Valor," with active duty NAVY SEALS.
Skarlatos and Stone aren't elite forces, though, just regular guys who want to serve their country. Much of "The 15:17 to Paris" recounts their childhood together (the three became friends in middle school), their early aspirations of joining the military, and their disappointment at not quickly finding distinction in the ranks.
Dorothy Blyskal's script, based on the book the trio wrote with Jeffery E. Stern, flashes through key points in their lives, focusing mainly on Stone. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer drop in as single moms. There is Thomas Lennon as a school principal and Tony Hale as a gym teacher.
Really, what any of them are doing in the film is a little uncertain. "The 15:17 to Paris" is even more out of balance once it gets to the guys backpacking through Europe ahead of the attack. "The 15:17 to Paris" is a brief ride at 94 minutes but it's a meandering one littered with gaps in the narrative and a missing sense of purpose.
When the big moment comes, it's well staged and presented without thundering music: a restrained climax for a sluggish movie.
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Starring: Alex Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language. 94 minutes